General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Canada, a division of Stellantis, will likely have to get creative as they plan to hire 3,700 workers at two Canadian plants in the coming years.
The industry’s best shot might be recruiting workers from the service sector, which has suffered a significant slowdown since the COVID-19 pandemic began, said Kristin Dziczek, vice-president of industry, labour and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. The companies can point to high wages and benefits to try winning over those workers, especially those who might not have considered a career in manufacturing.
A job in auto assembly is, “in most labour markets, a job with relatively better pay and benefits than most manufacturing or service jobs,” she said. “The service sector is down a lot, so I think they’ll probably be looking at transitioning people who haven’t worked in manufacturing before.”
Both sites — GM’s Oshawa, Ont., factory east of Toronto and FCA’s Windsor, Ont., plant near the U.S. border — are relatively secluded when compared with the rest of the companies’ manufacturing footprints. Oshawa Assembly is more than 200 kilometres from GM’s assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont., while the FCA Windsor factory is about 350 kilometres southwest of the automaker’s Brampton, Ont., plant.
That means transferring workers from one plant to another if necessary is largely off the table, said Dziczek. The situation in Canada, with its spread-out manufacturing base, contrasts with the auto sector’s plants in the U.S. Midwest, where the manufacturing footprint is more densely populated and transfers are common, Dziczek said.
“It’s going to be tough. All of Canada’s plants are sort of in their own little diasporas.”
GM and FCA plan to make those hires in the coming years as part of billion-dollar investments in their factories. GM will spend up to $1.3 billion in Oshawa to build pickups, resulting in 1,400 to 1,700 hires, including about 175 workers still on layoff from the end of vehicle assembly there in 2019.
That leaves GM with up to 1,525 new hires to find for Oshawa by the time production starts in 2022. Unifor President Jerry Dias said he expects the automaker to turn to workers who were let go during the 2019 wind-down and gauge their interest in returning to the plant.
“There’s no question in my mind that they will pick and choose from those that severed because they know they’re trained to do the work,” Dias said. “They will be selective on who they bring back, but based on everything I’m hearing, they will pull from the pool of those that have been severed.”
GM spokeswoman Jennifer Wright confirmed that the automaker is “in the process of recruiting and hir-ng” workers for Oshawa, includ-ng production and skilled trades workers, as well as management and engineering positions.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Wright wrote in an email to Automotive News Canada, adding that the company would “work closely” with Unifor on staffing plans.
REHIRING, RECALLS FALL SHORT
FCA plans to hire/recall 2,000 workers as part of its plan to invest up to $1.5 billion for electric-vehicle production at Windsor in 2024. That figure could include about 425 workers on layoff after the factory’s third shift ended last year, when 1,500 jobs were eliminated. Many took retirement packages, Dias said.
Of those that remain on layoff, “Chrysler has a contractual obligation to bring them back,” he said.
Still, that would leave FCA with at least 1,575 workers to hire in the next few years. That could be a particular challenge for the company in the Windsor area, which is smaller and more isolated from other major population centres than the auto plants in the Greater Toronto Area.
Dziczek said Unifor’s latest contracts with the Detroit Three could also help attract new workers to the sector. The contracts shorten — to eight years from 10 — the phase-in period for new hires to be paid a full wage.
GM and FCA production workers who are paid a full wage will earn $37.33 an hour by the third year of the new contracts, according to Unifor, while skilled-trades workers will earn $44.77 per hour. The average Canadian worker across all sectors made $27.83 an hour in 2019, according to Statistics Canada.
Mississauga Toyota CEO Susan Gubasta said on the March 12 Automotive News Canada Conversations podcast that jobs exists at the dealership level, too.
"There are always opportunities. We’re always constantly looking for great people because they are so hard to come across,” Gubasta said. “We can always train, but it’s about getting great people to come to our doors.”
“They have to understand there are so many diverse opportunities. It’s not just about selling cars or fixing cars. We need people in accounting. We need people that are in banking. We need people that know how to run business. We need people who are good in inventory, people in service, sales, product advisors. We need people in marketing. The list goes on.”
Greg Layson contributed to this report.